Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Nice! France!

We're not in Cameroon anymore...

I started my two week vacation off with a smoked salmon, creme fraiche, melted cheese and dill panini. Accompanied with a mini carafe of alsatian wine and finished with an espresso. Sounds amazing right?? And it wasn't even at fancy place, just an average cafe. I was in HEAVEN. Even thought the unusual amount of dairy and rich food made me sick it didn't stop me from getting a Mcflurry afterward.

My french cuisine experience deserves it's own blog entirely, but I'll continue on with something else for now. Nice is a gorgeous city located on the French Riviera. It's a cool mix of French and Italian culture along side the beautiful blues of the Mediterranean. The buildings are warm yellow and rustic orange with terra cotta roofs, iron balconies full of flowers and sea green window shutters. It was absolutely lovely. It was even a nice change to be cold for a while, and I was definitely freezing at a chilly high of barely 70 degrees. This didn't seem to bother anyone else though. People were walking around in tee shirt, tanning on the beach and even some crazy people were swiming. The first night I slept in my fleece jacket under a thick blanket. I stayed in a hostel for two nights that could easily qualify as a three star hotel in Cameroon with hot water, shockingly nice customer service, free high speed internet, clean beds and right in the center of Nice.

Since I wasn't meeting my friends in Paris for a few days, I made friends with others in the hostel. Most of them were younger and almost all spoke english. It was really cool hearing about other people's travels around Europe but a little frustrating when some people had no idea where I had been living for a year. Worse was after I told them about a couple of my experiences, they tried to relate to it in some ridiculous way. It wasn't like that all the time, I did have some good conversations about working in micro finance, the things I missed the most about Cameroon/ and the states, etc, so that was really really great.

I think I handled the dramatic change pretty well. It was weird being in a predominately white country. I kept thinking that I saw people I knew. There were a lot of older people too (Cameroon's average life expectancy is a lot lower) and everyone had a little dog that they went everywhere with, even in stores and restaurants = bizarre. The amount of wealth was just astounding. Instead of running for the race I originally signed up for, I spent one morning recovering not from a bottle of wine, but from a cheese plate and then in the afternoon took a day trip with a few newly made friends to Monaco. The small country is the 16th most developed country in the world. Let me tell you, I almost threw up in my mouth after 3 Lamborghinis drove by us on the street. They made the BMWs there look like Saturns and the yachts were big enough to be confused for a small cruise lines. It was exhausting just looking at all of it.

That night a bunch of us went out to a bar that had a live band playing classic american rock, met some people from Lousiana and felt like a piece of me was back at home. Apart of me wishes that I just continued on to the states to see much missed family and friends. At the same time, I'm so happy to be seeing a new place and meeting up with old college friends. And surprisingly, I still miss Cameroon. Shout out to my parents that made this much needed vacation possible, where ever I ended up being, I'm loving every second of it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Deep East

I waited to post this blog because I wanted to post some pictures to go along with it, but you know, cameroon and technology doesn't mix that well so we'll just have to wait. They'll get posted one day, but until then grab a cup of coffee and get prepared for a long blog about my east province trip. But I promise it won’t be as long as the bus rides…

So we’ll start there. The first leg of the trip was a 12 hour ride on horrible roads in a prison bus. We were joking that prisoners in the states have nicer buses than we do. So do cattle. Thankfully I wasn’t traveling alone, I traveled with my postmates Ann-Marie and Kate and the other 25+ people packed in the bus. At one time, Kate counted and she was touching 7 people! (including 2 babies). Its so cramped that our knees were always hitting the metal bar of the seat infront of us or uncomfortably shoved up someones back side. Covered in dirt, knees bruised… I was not a happy camper.

God bless my ipod though, I would have never made it.

The bus only broke down once. Everyone in the bus was thankful for that, especially since the bus was missing a part called ______(insert French word I didn’t understand here) and if we broke down again we would have to sleep on the side of the road. We didn’t get the whole story but the bus was running regardless of this mystery missing part. As it got darker and darker, driving along we realized what that French word was… HEADLIGHTS. Yeah, kind of necessary. For an hour we drove in the dark. It was one of those times when you get really nervous and start freaking out so instead all you can do is laugh semi hysterically. So I laughed as people in the bus passed up their lighters with little flashlights on the end to try and help the situation.

We arrived in Yokaduma, a town known for it’s wild wild west kind of feel, where we met the other volunteers from the east waiting for us with cold beers. They were delicious. We headed out the next morning with the World Wildlife Foundation -WWF to Mambele, a small village of 500 people another 160 kilometers south. In the buses it takes about 8 hours. Lucky for us the WWF drove us down there in 5 hours in their vehicles since the roads were too bad for the bus.

The reason we were doing all of this traveling was to do a province wide collaboration project with Matt and Sarah Kuhn, two peace corps volunteers living in Mambele. I highly recommend reading their blog because their life is completely different and probably the most extreme of any volunteers living in Cameroon. And their stories are hilarious too. Their blog:

Matt and Sarah both work with the WWF in their largest conversation and anti-poaching program in the Central African Rainforest. They do anything from rehabilitating endangered African Grey Parrots on their front lawn to prosecuting hunters. More importantly they invited us over to their house for Tuna Surprise… and let me tell you, the surprise here in Cameroon is tuna because its too expensive for most of us to buy it.

The project went really well. Education Volunteers did a workshop with teachers from the district on effective teaching methods. Nik and I worked with a EcoTourism GIC on budgeting, management, and project planning. The health presentations were great and I still have some of the songs they used stuck in my head. The town was really happy to receive us and we already received really positive feedback about the sessions we conducted.

During the week we stayed at a camp and it was pretty nice. There were a couple semi sleepless nights listening to animals scratch outside my hut and/or me scratching mosquito bites inside my hut. But since I had a bed and a mattress it really wasn’t hardcore camping. In the middle of the night, I debated whether it would be cool to see a gorilla, but decided that when I’m outside peeing at 1am would not be the best time. There were always monkeys though, making huge jumps in the trees above. We collected our water in buckets from the river (bleached them of course- I don’t want shisto). We came prepared with all of our food supplies for the week since there was hardly anything in the village. We weren’t exactly prepared to be cooking everything over a fire but at the end of the week, I think we could have done crumb brulee. A year ago I was serving Norwegian water in polished crystal glasses and now I am using leaves as ovenmits, potlids have replaced fine china, and five times a day or more I find myself saying “is this clean??? (in my head I say no)… Meh, clean enough”

The amount of bugs were ridiculous. That week, we used a whole bottle of Ben’s 100% Deet and still got eaten alive by mosquitoes and something similar to deer flies. Not literally eaten alive though, the killer ants stayed away from us and only attacked some of the food. There were also hundreds of butterflies and birds all around the campground.

Once our work was finished we took a trip into one of the reserve parks. Just when you think you’re the furthest away from a starbucks than you will ever be… its time to go farther. The infrastructure for tourists is practically non existent. No places to really stay, no roads in the park and if I wasn’t a PCV I would have no idea how to get there. The WWF drove us on a “road” in the park and at various parts of the trip the driver would say to all of us cramped in the back of the land cruiser,“Okay. Sit well.”. And we’d try and hold on to a part of the car while ducking our head down away from the windows because we were about to get THROWN. We also had to close the windows because of snakes. We were dropped off and hiked the rest of the way to the clearing.

We had 2 Baka guides and a ecoguard (someone allowed to use a gun that was held together with a rubberband… hmmm) that came with us. It took a little less than 2 hours to the clearing where we camped out for a night. Petit Jean, our baka guide showed us things in the forest you can eat and cook with like sticks in the woods that smelled like garlic. He cut a vine down that we could drink water out of too. Along the way we saw some monkeys that looked like skunks, elephant prints, gazelles - african deer, and a couple meter long lizards. I was disappointed not to see any gorillas. Matt was saying that its good the animals are not acclimated to humans because it would only increase poaching. But one time, a few of us were walking to go prep dinner and we heard gorillas yelling and rawring and making whatever sounds they make. The furthest we could see was about 20ft because vegetation was so dense, sometimes we couldn’t see 5feet infront of us, or my own feet. But anyway, we heard them and I STOPPED immediately. I looked around, and then just booked it up to our little pygmy guide and frantically asked him in english “Gorillas don’t eat humans right?!?!? They just attack us????” Of course he couldn’t understand what I was saying, just looked at me like I was crazy. Sarah thought my freak out was pretty funny though.

So we hiked back, and did the whole travel thing again with a few minor road blocks like large trees and logging trucks. The WWF has amazing drivers that could navigate through deep mud, over ditches and were able to control the car when it was sliding over the bridge made out of 4x4s. We bought our driver a beer when we got to Yokaduma for getting us there safely and I was happy fall asleep in our 10 dollar a night hotel room – the classiest place in town.

Needless to say I did NOT want to travel for a while after that. Until now basically. I'm headed to PARIS!!!! In one hour I'm going to get on a bus, head to the airport and proceed to probably freak out. I'm excited. I'll write when I get back, love siobhan